Normally folders on your computer are not protected. If someone else is on your PC, you may not want them to be able to access certain folders, such as folders containing personal documents. VeraCrypt allows you to encrypt folders. In this article we explain how that works.
If you want to encrypt your files really well and also in a user-friendly and 'transparent' way, VeraCrypt is a good option. This freeware was released years ago as an open source successor to Truecrypt that disappeared for mysterious reasons. In all those years nothing has really changed in the way it works. After downloading VeraCrypt and installing it, you can create a so-called container file. Basically an encrypted folder where you can 'just' store files later. The strength of that encryption does depend on your chosen password, so choose something that is difficult to guess.
The container file is then mounted by VeraCrypt as a virtual drive in Windows. In short: you just get an extra drive letter in the Explorer. All folders and files you store on the drive are encrypted 'on the fly'. You hardly notice that process in terms of speed anymore, because most processors have hardware acceleration for encryption.
Once you unmount the virtual drive via VeraCrypt, or shut down your computer, no one can access the data stored in the container. In short: the ultimate security. We explain how to create, use and close such a container.
Create VeraCrypt container
Open VeraCrypt, which we first set to Dutch for convenience. Go to . at the top Settings, choose Language and then Dutch. click on OK. The interface is now in our native language. click on Make volume and hold the first option (Create a decrypted file container) selected. Press Next one.
The option Default VeraCrypt volume is fine, so click again Next one. Bee Volume Location click on Select file. It now looks like you are going to open a file, but you are actually going to create one. Type at File name the name you want to give the container, preferably something that is of course not too noticeable. click on Save and Next one. In the next window you Coding Algorithm on AES standing and Hash algorithm on SHA-512. This is a very strong encryption principle.
Bee Volume size indicate the size of the container. Which means; you will soon be able to store that many MB/GB of files in the container. Enter a number (e.g. 5 GB) and press . again Next one. Bee Volume password enter a secure password, at Confirm same password again. Click Next one. Choose whether you intend to keep files larger than 4 GB each in the container and click again Next one.
Now move your cursor within the VeraCrypt window to determine the strength of the encryption. The longer you move the cursor back and forth, the fuller the bar at the bottom of the screen runs. You can do this for as long as you want, we recommend to continue until the bar turns green and is full. Then press format and the container file is created. The larger the file, the longer it takes. End with OK and Close.
Load VeraCrypt container
You now have an empty VeraCrypt container on your system. How do you store your files there? In the main VeraCrypt window, press Select file, navigate to the container and press To open. Press Couple and enter the previously chosen password and press OK. After a few seconds of loading, you will now see an extra folder appearing in your Explorer.
That folder works just like any other folder on your PC. Put in the files you want to protect. Then open VeraCrypt again, select the container file and press disconnect. The folder disappears from the Explorer again. Voilà, now no one can access the files you just transferred.
7-Zip files with password
It can also be a lot easier, for example by using the encryption options of the free 7-Zip. This compression program has an option to compress and encrypt files. The downside is that you have to keep opening the archive to get to your encrypted files. If you only have a handful of 'hide' files that don't change or don't change often, that's manageable.
If you simply want to keep all your documents securely encrypted, it becomes very cumbersome because you keep updating the archive file. Moreover, you run the risk of monstrously large archive files, especially if you 'zip' photos and videos.
Encrypt in Windows
If you are lucky enough to have a Pro version of Windows, you have access to an encryption option built into the operating system. You can then use EFS or Encrypted File System. You should keep in mind that the strength of your Windows password determines the degree of security of encrypted folders and files. Don't forget to export your EFS certificate to a secure location. If you don't and you unexpectedly have to reinstall Windows, you will never be able to access your encrypted files without that certificate!
The actual encryption of a folder (or single file if necessary) is very simple. In the Explorer, right-click on the item to be encrypted. In the opened context menu, click on Characteristics and then under the tab General on the button Advanced. Toggle the option Encrypt content to secure data and click OK. If you are asked if you also want to encrypt the underlying folders, choose Yes.
In that case, just like with VeraCrypt, a folder is created in which you can safely store files. Now Windows is not known as the most secure operating system on the planet, so it may be unwise to encrypt extremely privacy-sensitive things in this way. In addition, we notice that when copying files to, for example, a NAS, this process is extremely slow. All files must first be decrypted again. Something to keep in mind if you plan to back up encrypted files.
If you have Windows 10 Pro, you can also use BitLocker's built-in encryption. Although the security can be questioned - after all, BitLocker is not open source, like Veracrypt and 7-Zip - Microsoft's tool is the obvious choice. You can find BitLocker in the Windows 10 Pro control panel. If you can't figure it out, read our in-depth article about setting up BitLocker in Windows 10.
Finally, keep in mind that most more advanced NAS also have the ability to create strongly encrypted shared folders. How that works differs per device. But once you have created such an encrypted folder on the NAS, no one can ever enter it again without the correct password. That might be the best solution! Especially if you were already planning to store your documents on the NAS. Read more about it in the article 'Securing a NAS in 14 steps.'
There are many more options to make Windows 10 more privacy-friendly. For example, O&O ShutUp10 gives Windows users more control over their personal data and allows them to easily adjust privacy settings to their liking. In this article we give some extra tips to further increase your privacy in Windows 10.